University assignments are built on scholarly evidence, so a key skill you will need to develop at University is in finding appropriate information. After completing this module, you should be confident in your ability to:
Once you are clear about your assignment brief, look for specific instructions in your assignment telling you what sources are appropriate. These specifications will dictate what, where and how you will look for the resources you require. This information is provided below for some of the resource types commonly required in assignments.
Journal articles explore very specific topics, usually through research.
They’re considered academic or scholarly sources as they are written by academics, researchers, and other experts in a particular field of study. In addition, many undergo a peer review process where the quality is checked, prior to publication. The author’s credentials are provided, allowing you to form judgements about their expertise and authority to be writing about the topic. References in the article provide supporting evidence, enabling readers to link through to related research.
Journal articles are useful because they can provide:
Journal articles are usually presented in a particular format including an abstract (a short summary of the article’s content) and a reference list. An example of a journal article is presented below:
Books are a great source for an overview of a particular topic. As they tend to be longer, books go into greater detail than other resource types and will often introduce and explain established theories, providing notable examples of research conducted in a particular field.
Books can provide:
A report is a specific format for communicating information, usually covering the who, what, where and why of a particular issue. They are typically produced by government departments, research groups, not-for-profit organisations, companies, and others, and will communicate the context behind decision making.
You will need to exercise some caution when using certain types of reports as they may have been produced for marketing purposes and could be biased.
They can provide:
Reports produced by organisations, Government departments and companies are usually freely available to the public.
News and other media sources provide up-to-date reporting on events as they are occurring, providing in-the-moment, first-hand accounts of a topic. These sources report on a topic, rather than research it, so events can be documented in days, whereas journal articles and books (which communicate research) may take months or years to move through the publication process. The rapid-nature of reporting may translate to bias and error, so ensure you evaluate newspaper articles carefully.
Media sources are great for images, quotations, opinions, and other primary source materials. They usually:
For other resource types, including legal material, health and medical resources, Indigenous Australian information and more, check out the Specific resources page of this guide.
Journal articles, books, and other academic materials are generally not available for free to the wider public. You will need to use the Library catalogue or an appropriate database to access them.
The Curtin Library Catalogue is a search engine that you can use to search the Library’s collection. It includes records for print material, as well as links to online books, journal articles, newspaper articles, videos and much more. The Library Catalogue is a good place to start searching on your topic as it allows you to search content from multiple databases at the same time. It’s the best place to search if you know the details of the item you are looking for (like your textbook!).
How do you search the catalogue for your textbook? Watch this 90 second video to find out.
Databases are large, searchable indexes of online content. They can cover a range of subject areas (multidisciplinary) or they can concentrate on a specific subject area. Databases are a great place to find scholarly journal articles and other content for your assignment. They offer more specific search features than the Library Catalogue, which can make it easier to focus your search and find relevant material. In some subject areas, such as law, specialist databases also contain material which is not included in the Library Catalogue.
Google and other search engines are great for doing background research, helping you find out more about your topic and (if necessary) identify keywords for your search. While you won’t be able to access (and sometimes even find) the journal articles, ebooks or other academic sources in a Google search, it is the best place to search for reports, and other publicly available materials.
More information about searching with these tools, including video demonstrations, is provided on the Search tools page of this module.
Regardless of which of the search tools you use, your search results are tied to the keywords you enter. It’s very important that you use the right words so that you can find the right information. Start by looking for the main ideas or concepts in your research question.